A baseball coach can learn a lot about his team when it plays the same opponent for the third consecutive day, especially when it's early in the high school season.
What Todd Middleton found out about his Northwest Whitfield Bruins is twofold: one, that there is much work still to be done to repeat as Region 7-AAAA champions, and two, his team doesn't fold even after a few sloppy innings. Northwest (7-3, 3-0) rallied from five runs down to sweep Ridgeland on Friday with six runs in the final two innings to pull out an 11-10 win.
"I hope they're all not like that," Middleton said when asked if all 7B-AAAA series finales will be such wild affairs. "They didn't quit and that's a pretty gutsy performance at the plate. We've been working on having better at-bats and more of a solid mental approach at the plate. Today was a good time to break out."
The Bruins, who had shut out the Panthers in the first two games of the region-opening series, were cruising with a 5-0 lead when Ridgeland (4-4, 0-3) erupted for six runs in the second inning to chase starting pitcher Phillip Hammonds. The lead grew to 10-5 after Kevin Long's sacrifice fly plated a run in the fifth.
Northwest, however, batted around in the sixth, scoring five runs to tie the game on five hits and two Ridgeland errors. Will Brock and Diego Peralta had RBI singles following an infield error that scored the inning's first run. With one out the Panthers could have ended the inning on what should have been an easy double play, but a boot loaded the bases and Caleb Shiflett made Ridgeland pay with a two-run tying single.
Ridgeland threatened in the bottom half and appeared to have scored the go-ahead run, but a ground ball past third was ruled foul and Northwest reliever Logan Hilton came on to get the final two outs. Northwest then used Omar Hernandez's walk, a hit batter and Will Brock's bunt single to score the eventual game-winner on Peralta's sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Hilton worked around a single in the bottom half to earn his second win in three days.
"I felt we were in a boxing match the entire game," Ridgeland coach Scott Harden said. "I'm not saying it's the umps' fault we lost the game, but if that ball is ruled fair we score a run and it's a different game. Still, we should have taken care of business with a five-run lead. I'm proud of the kids for their fight, but we just didn't finish it."
Shiflett led Northwest's 14-hit attack with three singles and three RBIs, and Andy Whisenant added two hits, including a two-run homer, to go with two hits each from Brock, Peralta, Seth Pierce and Hernandez. Tucker Hill, Tyler Hisey and Chandler Nabors had two hits each for Ridgeland.
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